OVERTAKING SAFELY

 

By Mark Kunda

OVERTAKING is a risk but doesn’t need to be risky.  Overtaking is not permission to overspeed. Overtaking is allowed but overspeeding is not allowed, even when overtaking. Safety when overtaking is not optional.

As I was brainstorming on this topic, three experiences came to my mind. The first one was when I was travelling from Lusaka to Ndola. I was in a private car and I sat next to the driver.

We reached a certain place which had a curve followed by a depression with a bridge. Immediately after passing the curve, we could see a clear uphill road on the other side of the bridge.

In the other lane, there was a chain of vehicles approaching us. They were five in total moving bumper to bumper – three small cars sandwiched between two large trucks.

Since the other side of the bridge was clear, our driver assumed the entire road was clear. So he decided to accelerate. Immediately after increasing the speed, we just saw a sixth vehicle emerging in our lane trying to overtake a chain of five vehicles.

At that point, the overtaking driver had managed to overtake two vehicles and he was moving side-by-side with the third car. He had two more to finish overtaking.

The overtaking driver couldn’t speed up or slow down or join back in his lane. He was completely stuck. Thankfully our driver acted quickly and safely.

To cut the story short, the three vehicles shared the road – our vehicle passed on the left, the overtaking vehicle in the middle and the vehicle being overtaken on the right.

The second one also happened when I was travelling on a public transport, a bus to be specific. The vehicle which was following us behind decided to overtake our big bus.

The overtaking driver misjudged the distance and speed of the oncoming vehicle. When the vehicle was moving side-by-side with our bus, the overtaking driver realised that the oncoming truck had closed in and he had no space to join back into the lane.

So he decided to swerve off the road to the right forcing the oncoming truck to pass in the middle and our bus on the left.

The last one happened when I was travelling to South Africa by bus. We reached an accident scene in Zimbabwe. So the road was temporarily closed to facilitate safe removal of the damaged vehicle from the road.

This created a long chain of trucks, buses and other vehicles. So when the road was finally opened, there was stiff competition among drivers to overtake each other.

When it was our turn to overtake two trucks in front, we run out of the clear stretch of the road before the bus with its trailer could finish overtaking.

As we approached a curve, we saw an oncoming vehicle emerge from the curve. Upon seeing us, the oncoming driver simply applied harsh breaks. Personally,   I could see the smoke rise from the tyres of the oncoming vehicle. This gave chance to our driver to gently swerve back into our lane.

The experiences that I have shared were potential accidents. In the first experience, I was in a vehicle approaching the overtaking vehicle. In the second one, I was in a vehicle being overtaken and in the third one, I was in the overtaking vehicle. Maybe as you were reading you were able to recall your own experiences.

Overtaking, if not done safely, has resulted in fatal accidents. Many things can go wrong during overtaking resulting in head-on collisions or a driver losing control of the  vehicle,  going off the road or overturning. The need to know how to overtake safely cannot be over emphasized. As motorists we all need to learn the art of overtaking safely.

Overtaking simply means passing the obstruction in front of you. The obstruction can either be in motion or stationary. In the case of driving, overtaking means passing the stationary or slow moving vehicle in front of you.

There are specific principles that guide when and when not to overtake. As a driver you need to know these safe rules. My focus in this article is on overtaking a moving vehicle on a highway.

Knowing when not to overtake is as important as knowing when to overtake. Let me start by highlighting when not to overtake. You should not overtake when you are doubting whether to overtake or not.

When your instincts tell you not to overtake, they are often right.  So obey them. You can’t afford to overtake with double thoughts. Indecision is very dangerous. Don’t overtake just because other vehicles are overtaking.

When one driver initiates overtaking, there is a temptation for over drivers to join behind. Resist this temptation. Do not overtake when traffic is flowing at a normal speed.

Even when overtaking, you are not allowed to exceed the speed limit. If the vehicle in front of you is moving at or near the speed limit, don’t overtake it. Just follow behind.

Do not overtake if overtaking will force other vehicles to change speed or to swerve. Your overtaking shouldn’t force the vehicle you want to overtake or the oncoming vehicle to slow down.

Do not overtake if you intend to stop or turn immediately after overtaking. It is so frustrating to see an impatient driver who was rushing to overtake only to stop or slow down after overtaking.

Do not overtake if there is a long tailgate. A tailgate is a situation whereby a chain of vehicles are following each other closely behind a slow moving vehicle.

In other words, a slow moving vehicle creates a ‘tail’ of vehicles behind. So if you are far behind in a tail, don’t attempt to overtake. It’s dangerous to overtake a number of vehicles at once.

Don’t overtake when approaching a hazardous section in a road. This includes sections of the road such as at the curve, hill, bridge, dip or narrow road.

You should not overtake when approaching speed-calming features or road sections where you are expected to slow down or stop such as speed humps, pedestrian crossing or rail crossing. Don’t overtake where you see a “No Overtaking” sign.

Don’t overtake where road markings prohibit overtaking. Besides other functions, line markings tell you where overtaking is allowed or prohibited.  You are allowed to overtake where you see a single broken white line or where the broken white line is near you for a double line which has a solid and broken lines.

You are not allowed to overtake where you see a solid single white line or solid double line or where the solid line is near you for a double line which has a solid and broken lines.

The bottom line is that do not overtake if overtaking will put you or others in danger. A single wrong move during overtaking can cause loss of your life or the life of another person.

Now let’s move on to how to overtake safely. Each stage of overtaking must be carried out safely which include before overtaking, during overtaking and after overtaking.

The before overtaking stage is very crucial. It is better and safer not to initiate overtaking than to start overtaking and realise that you made a wrong move. Sometimes once you start overtaking, you may land yourself into an irreversible emergency which may result in an accident.  So before you start overtaking, ask yourself “is it really necessary to overtake?” if the answer is “no,” then don’t overtake. You also need to understand the acceleration power of your vehicle.

For example a manual transmission vehicle may accelerate faster than the auto transmission vehicle. The acceleration of a manual vehicle occurs instantly when you press the accelerator while the acceleration of an automatic vehicle is controlled automatically.

So even if you press hard the accelerator of an automatic vehicle, the vehicle may not accelerate rapidly. Before overtaking, ensure that the road is clear and that the clear space is long enough for you to finish overtaking safely and return to your lane.  Ensure that there is enough space for you to join back after overtaking. Sometimes you may think that there is space between two trucks following each other and only to discover while you are in a process of overtaking that there is a small vehicle between them.

Be sure that there is safe space in front of the vehicle you want to overtake. Judge the speed of the vehicle you want to overtake correctly. Remember that the higher the speed, the longer the distance you will need to complete overtaking.

The length of the vehicle you want to overtake also matters. The longer the length, the longer the distance you will need to overtake. Some long vehicles display behind a sign ‘Long Vehicle.’  If there is an oncoming vehicle, you should estimate its speed and distance correctly. The faster the vehicle is moving means the faster it will close up the distance for your overtaking.

Bear in mind that a big vehicle like a truck approaching sometimes appears as though it’s moving slowly or not moving at all when in actual sense it’s at full speed. So be careful to judge its speed properly.

Ensure that there is no vehicle from behind already in the process of overtaking. If so, give it chance to overtake first. Once you are sure that it is safe to overtake, give signal and start overtaking.

During overtaking, remain alert. Once you start overtaking, continue accelerating until you finish overtaking. Do your overtaking quickly and safely. Ensure that the driver in front has seen you. If possible, hoot your vehicle to let him know. If he indicates that it’s unsafe to overtake, obey and move back in the lane.

Once you start overtaking, don’t change your mind. After overtaking, continue moving until you leave the vehicle you have overtaken a plenty of distance before joining back into your lane. Return back into your lane without cutting in.

When you are the one being overtaken, maintain your speed. Don’t accelerate. Move to as far left as possible without moving off the road. Signal to the overtaking vehicle when and when not to overtake. Be alert just in case the overtaking vehicle suddenly joins in front of you.

When overtaking becomes an emergency, be willing to slow down and to move to the left as much as it safe to do so to give extra space to the overtaking vehicle.

Overtaking is dangerous. Don’t put yourself or others in danger by avoiding unnecessary overtaking.  Obey traffic rules even when overtaking. When overtaking, don’t exceed the speed limit. Don’t just overtake, overtake safely. Stay safe. Zambia needs you.

The author is the CEO of SafetyFocus, a safety company committed to providing safety training and consultancy.

For your comments, contact the author on cell +260 975 255770 or email: marksucceed@gmail.com

Mark Kunda—Safety Consultant.

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